Womanhood vs. Culture


— By Rebecca from Burundi

Moving from childhood to adulthood is not always easy, especially for women. For ages, Burundian society has gathered some prejudices and fallacies to be taught to girls once they are heading to adulthood. My life as a girl has always been difficult; I have faced many hardships related to my gender. There are some experiences which might be small enough for others to forget but big enough to reveal the prime purpose of someone’s life – trajectory. Being a girl has sometimes prevented me from being the real person I want to be and made me missed many opportunities.

I have realized that the natural and simple fact that we are created women can be seen as a sin, especially when it comes to menstruation. So, are periods a curse or a gift? This is a much discussed subject in my community. It all goes with prejudices and fallacies which end up undermining females.

When I was about thirteen, I was probably only on my fourth or fifth cycle back then but I already knew the code of conduct that was expected from me while on my period:
“Don’t use the sofa and the bed…”
“Don’t touch anything in the kitchen…”
“DO NOT GO near temple…forget about entering it!”
“Are you a fool? How can you dance during ‘those days’?”
“Keep your used utensils outside of the washing unit, not with our utensils!”

Being a teenager at the time, all these practices barely bothered me and, I have to say, they still don’t bother me much today. I had my cell phone, washroom, utensils, and my food. Who could care less about the stupid outside world?

However, I remember that day of June 2013. I was sitting in my room, reading my favorite novel when I heard my mum: “Rebecca! Get your utensils. A house girl will wash it!” Since I was in my own world; I had unknowingly kept my utensils with everybody else’s. That wasn’t acceptable at all for my mum. Meanwhile I had no idea what was the fuss was all about. You can’t scold a girl in front of her entire family when she is on her period and expect her to not be moody about it.

Obviously I lost my cool.

“What did I do wrong!? Anyway these stupid practices of yours have NO logic, do they?” I said. My mum answered “Rebecca, it is well known in our culture and Burundian community and so you have to follow them and that’s it.” That day shook me. Until that day, I had lived with the perception of being born into a supposedly modern, educated and peri-urban family…

In the same month, my school teacher surprised me too! He asked for help to clean the chalkboard so I stood up to help. Accidently, I slept and almost fell. The classmates burst into laughing and the teacher asked me what was wrong with me.”I am having a great headache” I told the teacher. I did not know that I had stained my skirt with my period and that he could see it. The teacher took me outside the class and asked me what I may have colored my skirt with. I simply told him that I was on my period. Can you guess what happened next? The teacher chased me and told me that I had brought curse into the classroom and that I should not have attended classes during that moment! Then he said ”Rebecca, You will come back after seven days and make sure you return into my class with super cleaning soap and spray to clean that bench!” Godness! What?!

It was on that day that I promised myself to always stand up for what is wrong and the way I saw it and this situation certainly was wrong. These practices seemed fine in the past, considering the fact that no hygiene facilities existed back then. In today’s scenario however, I feel that they are simply hindrances. We expect everything to evolve with time – people’s ways of living, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and the government they are ruled by. But this? Oh no! Evolution in this area is an absolute sin!

I always wanted to be something more than a doctor, engineer, CA or collector. On that day, I knew had found my goal;I have a dream to start an NGO working against such wrong doings. But don’t misunderstand my words, I don’t think that our Burundian culture and traditions are wrong, oh no! They are one of the most beautiful principles and values IF interpreted, preached and imparted properly. Following these menstrual rituals for instance is a personal choice and shouldn’t be imposed to people and make them feel less confident about themselves. In the 21st century, it’s time to think about what needs to be changed and what shouldn’t.